'I overestimated my physical capabilities': why Platzeck stepped down as SPD leader

10th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

After less than five months as leader of Germany's SPD, East German rising star Matthias Platzeck has been forced by stress-related health problems to step down. Mike Swanson reports.

Matthias Platzeck was the man chosen by Social Democrats to lead the German party out of a crisis caused by the abrupt resignation of its chairman Franz Muenterfering last November.

After less than five months on the job, Platzeck stepped down as head of the party on Monday, citing health reasons. Overwork led to a temporary loss of his hearing.

*quote1*"I overestimated my physical capabilities," said the 52-year-old, who in addition to being SPD chairman is also premier of Brandenburg and leader of the party in that state.

Platzeck told a news conference that since taking office he had suffered circulation problems and had twice been diagnosed with sudden sensorineural hearing loss, a condition that often arises after long periods of stress.

The last hearing ailment put him in hospital for a week. His release last Wednesday coincided with an opinion poll published in the magazine Stern showing the SPD at its lowest popularity level this year.

Platzeck was forced to resign after overwork caused health problems

Only 27 per cent of the 2,500 people questioned by the research institute Forsa supported the SPD against 39 per cent who backed Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, with whom the SPD formed a grand coalition last November 22.

SPD leaders had expressed growing concern at the party's waning support in the electorate, fearing it was paying the price for unpopular decisions taken by the grand coalition, such as raising the retirement age and increasing consumption tax next year.

Platzeck was a rising east German political star when he was elected chairman on November 15 - a week before the grand coalition took office after inconclusive elections in September. His 99.4 per cent of the vote was a record for the party.

His freshness appealed to voters, many of whom were tired of months of election campaigning and the political horse-trading that went on after the vote.

That vitality was gone when a tired and weary looking Platzeck appeared at a televised news conference on Monday to announce his decision to heed his doctors' advice and quit as party chairman.

"No matter how hard you work, the bottom line is 'the person is more important than the job'," said CDU politician Joerg Schoenbohm in Brandenburg, where Platzeck was elected premier in 2002.

Born in East Germany, Platzeck grew up in what could be termed a solid middle class family.

He studied bio-medical cybernetics at the Technical University in Ilmenau and began his career as an employee at the Institute for Air Quality in the southern city of Chemnitz, then called Karl-Marx-City.

Platzeck later became chief environment and hygiene inspector in his native Potsdam.

Following the November 9, 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall which led to East Germany's implosion, Platzeck formed a party called the Green League and was a member of the "round table" talks which paved the way to the first and last free elections in the country.

In early 1990 he served as a minister without portfolio in a transitional government headed by Hans Modrow, the last communist leader of East Germany.

He was elected to Brandenburg state's parliament in October 1990 and named environment minister. He served for several years as an independent politician before joining the SPD in 1995.

Heavily bearded in the East German dissident style during the late 1980s, the divorced Platzeck now sports a closely cropped designer beard.

10 April 2006

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news, Matthias Platzeck, SPD

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